1. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    How should employers reward creative types for turning in fresh, inventive work: with a plaque or a party recognizing their achievement, or with cold, hard cash? According to new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in product development and marketing, it’s all about the money, honey.

    In contexts where a premium is placed on being original, social recognition as a reward for an especially imaginative piece of work doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity, says published research co-written by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois.

    “The general consensus in the research literature on creativity is that money hurts creativity,” Mehta said. “But most of that prior research was conducted with children as the test subjects, and the participants were not specifically told that the reward was for being creative. So what is it about the contingency of rewards that impacts creativity, and would adults respond to all types of creativity-contingent rewards the same way?”

    Across five experiments, Mehta and his co-authors examined the role of creativity-contingent monetary rewards versus creativity-contingent social-recognition rewards on creative performance, providing new insights into the underlying motivational processes through which these rewards affect creativity.

    The experiments demonstrated that, within the context of creativity contingency, monetary rewards induce “a performance focus,” while social-recognition rewards induce “a normative focus,” according to the paper. The researchers found that the former enhances one’s motivation to be original, thereby leading to more inventiveness in a creative task, while the latter hurts it.

    “We found that if you tell people to be creative and then give them monetary rewards, they will be more creative,” Mehta said. “But wouldn’t the same be true of all rewards? If you tell people to be creative and then give them a social-recognition reward instead of money, then they’ll be just as creative as those you reward with money, right? We found no empirical evidence for that.”

    Mehta said social recognition is “all about people knowing about you and your work, and thereby influencing one to act more in accordance with social norms,” whereas creativity means “coming up with something different, something novel, something that is not the norm.”

    “As adults, we don’t want to come up with something that’s too radical, too out-there, especially when we know that our peers will be judging us,” he said. “Most of our daily activities as working adults are about adhering to social norms. We don’t want to stand out too much.”

    But when a monetary reward is dangled, people amp up their performance and consciously try to “blow the doors off the competition” in terms of creativity, Mehta said.

    “When you ask someone to be creative, you’re asking them to be transgressive, to think beyond social norms and thought processes that are not automatic,” he said. “That’s why a social-recognition reward kills creativity, because it makes creators more risk-averse. It appeals to conformity, to not standing out, which drives you to the middle, not the edge. It compels you to fall in line with social norms, and there’s less motivation to be creative.

    “People who value creativity value the bizarre, the stuff that’s out there. Therefore, they’re less likely to care about the approval of others, or a sense of belonging with their peers.”

    The research has practical applications for how people generate creative ideas, and how to motivate creative-class employees.

    “There’s a trend among companies for crowdsourcing ideas or user-generated content,” Mehta said. “Virtually all social media is user- or consumer-driven. This ought to point them in the right direction: Money talks, but social recognition doesn’t.”

    The research also is applicable to people who work at ad agencies or in creative fields.

    “A little caveat, though: People in those fields are expected to be creative, so social recognition also would work for them,” Mehta said. “But more money certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either. In that case, both rewards would lead to more creativity.”

    The paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  2. Study examines role of gossip in interpersonal relationships

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    Although both men and women gossip, women may be more likely to use gossiping and rumour-mongering as tactics to badmouth a potential rival who is competing for a man’s attention. Women also gossip more about other women’s looks, whereas men talk about cues to resource holding (e.g., wealth) and the athleticism of their competitors. According to Adam Davis of the University of Ottawa in Canada, gossiping is a highly evolved social skill and an intrasexual competition tactic that relates to women’s and men’s evolved preferences. He therefore sees it as essential for interpersonal relationships, and not a flaw of character. Davis is the lead author of a study in Springer’s journal Evolutionary Psychological Science that provides the first verifiable evidence for a positive link between intrasexual competitiveness, the amount of gossip that people take part in, and whether they are OK with such talk or not. Scholars agree that gossip has evolved as an efficient way to learn more about others, and to enforce group norms. It is also a method by which people can learn more about their rivals, and can call into question their reputation, especially when they are vying for the same romantically or sexually desirable mates.

    In this study, 290 heterosexual Canadian students between the ages of 17 and 30 years old completed three questionnaires. One measured how competitive the participants are towards members of the same sex as their own, especially in terms of access to the attention of potential mates. The other questionnaires measured the tendency and likelihood of the participants to gossip about others, the perceived social value of gossip, and whether it is okay to talk about others behind their backs.

    It was found that people who were competitive towards members of their own sex had a greater tendency to gossip. They were also more comfortable with the practice than others. Women had a greater tendency to gossip than men, and they also enjoyed it more, and saw more value in participating in such chit-chat. Men were more likely to gossip about the achievements of others. Such talk among women often targeted the physical appearance of another, and was used to share social information. Women also found gossip to have greater social value, which may allow them gather more information about possible competitors in the game of finding a mate. It may also help to hone their ability to gossip in future.

    According to Davis, these findings provide evidence that gossip is an intrasexual competition tactic that corresponds to women’s and men’s evolved mate preferences. It also reflects the different strategies used by the sexes in their quest to find suitable mates.

    “The findings demonstrate that gossip is intimately linked to mate competition and not solely the product of a female gender stereotype that may be viewed as pejorative,” states Davis, who believes that therapists, counsellors, educators, and the general public should rethink their stance about gossip. “It is a highly evolved social skill essential for interpersonal relationships, rather than a flaw of character.”


  3. Study looks at gender differences in reactions to prosocial behaviour

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Zurich press release:

    Behavioral experiments have shown that women share a sum of money more generously than men. To gain a more in-depth understanding of this behavior, neuroscientists from the Department of Economics looked at the areas of the brain that are active when decisions of this kind are made. They are the first to demonstrate that the brains of men and women respond differently to prosocial and selfish behavior.

    Selfish behavior activates reward system more strongly in men

    The striatum, located in the middle of the brain, is responsible for the assessment of reward and is active whenever a decision is made. The findings show: The striatum was more strongly activated in female brains during prosocial decisions than during selfish decisions. By contrast, selfish decisions led to a stronger activation of the reward system in male brains.

    Disrupted reward system leads to more selfish behavior in women

    In the second experiment, the reward system was disrupted by administering medication to the participants. Under these conditions, women behaved more selfishly, while men became more prosocial. The latter result surprised the researchers. As Soutschek explains, “these results demonstrate that the brains of women and men also process generosity differently at the pharmacological level.” The results also have consequences for further brain research, with Soutschek stating that “future studies need to take into account gender differences more seriously.”

    Culturally conditioned behavior patterns are decisive

    Even if these differences are evident at the biological level, Soutschek warns against assuming that they must be innate or of evolutionary origin. “The reward and learning systems in our brains work in close cooperation. Empirical studies show that girls are rewarded with praise for prosocial behavior, implying that their reward systems learn to expect a reward for helping behavior instead of selfish behavior. With this in mind, the gender differences that we observed in our studies could best be attributed to the different cultural expectations placed on men and women.” This learning account is also supported by findings that indicate significant differences in the sensitivity of the reward system to prosocial and selfish behavior across cultures.


  4. Study examines effect of oxytocin on sociability

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University Medical Center press release:

    Why is it so much fun to hang out with our friends? Why are some people so sociable while others are loners or seemingly outright allergic to interactions with others?

    A new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine begins to provide an answer, pinpointing places and processes in the brain that promote socialization by providing pleasurable sensations when it occurs. The findings point to potential ways of helping people, such as those with autism or schizophrenia, who can be painfully averse to socializing.

    The study, which will be published Sept. 29 in Science, details the role of a substance called oxytocin in fostering and maintaining sociability. The senior author is Robert Malenka, MD, PhD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral science. The lead author is former postdoctoral scholar Lin Hung, PhD.

    “Our study reveals new insights about the brain circuitry behind social reward, the positive experience you often get when you run into an old friend or meet somebody you like,” said Malenka, who has focused much of his research on an assembly of interacting nerve tracts in the brain collectively known as the reward circuitry.

    “The reward circuitry is crucial to our survival because it rewards us for doing things that have, during our evolutionary history, tended to enhance our survival, our reproduction and the survival of our resulting offspring,” said Malenka, who holds the Nancy Friend Pritzker Professorship in Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences. “It tells us what’s good by making us feel good. When you’re hungry, food tastes great. When you’re thirsty, water is refreshing. Sex is great pretty much most of the time. Hanging out with your friends confers a survival advantage, too, by decreasing your chances of getting eaten by predators, increasing your chances of finding a mate and maybe helping you learn where food and water are.”

    Reward system conserved over evolution

    Because the reward system is so critical, it’s been carefully conserved over evolution and in many respects operates just the same way in mice as it does in humans, making mice good experimental models for studying it.

    Far and away the most important component of the brain’s reward circuitry, Malenka said, is a nerve tract that runs from a structure deep in the brain called the ventral tegmental area to a midbrain structure called the nucleus accumbens. The ventral tegmental area houses a cluster of nerve cells, or neurons, whose projections to the nucleus accumbens secrete a substance called dopamine, altering neuronal activity in this region. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens can produce a wave of pleasure, telling the brain that the event going on is helpful for survival. Dopamine release in this region, and subsequent changes in activity there and in downstream neurons, also prime the brain to remember the events and the behaviors leading up to the chemical’s release.

    This tract, so famous for reinforcing survival-enhancing behaviors such as eating, drinking and mating, has been infamously implicated in our vulnerability to drug addiction — a survival-threatening outcome resulting from drugs’ ability to inappropriately stimulate dopamine secretion in the tract. But understanding exactly how and under what natural conditions the firing of its dopamine-secreting nerves gets tripped off is a work in progress.

    Earlier research has specifically implicated dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens in social behavior. “So, we knew reward circuitry plays a role in social interactions,” Malenka said. “What we still didn’t know — but now we do — was: How does this increased dopamine release during social interaction come about?”

    ‘Love hormone’ pulls the strings

    It turns out that another chemical — oxytocin — is pulling the strings.

    Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone” because it’s thought to be involved in falling in love, mother-child bonding and female sexual arousal, as well as lifetime pair-bonding of sexual mates among some species. The chief source of oxytocin in the brain is the paraventricular nucleus, which resides in a deep-brain structure called the hypothalamus that serves as a manifold master regulator of body temperature, hunger, thirst, sleep, emotional reactions and more.

    Research over the last 20 to 40 years has suggested that oxytocin plays a role in promoting not just sexual or nurturing behavior, but also sociability. A 2013 study co-authored by Malenka showed that oxytocin was essential to reinforcing friendly, social behavior in mice. But how that occurred was unclear, as the paraventricular nucleus sends oxytocin-squirting nerve tracts to many areas throughout the brain.

    So Malenka and his colleagues designed experiments to nail down oxytocin’s role in social behavior. They confirmed that a tract running from the paraventricular nucleus to the ventral tegmental area carried oxytocin. They showed, for the first time, that activity in this tract’s oxytocin-secreting neurons jumped during mice’s social interactions and that this neuronal activity was required for their normal social behavior. Disrupting this activity inhibited sociability but didn’t impair the mice’s movement or their appetite for pleasurable drugs, such as cocaine.

    The researchers demonstrated that oxytocin secreted in the ventral tegmental area by neurons originating in the paraventricular nucleus fosters sociability by binding to receptors on the dopamine-secreting neurons that compose the tract running from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens, enhancing the firing of the reward-circuit tract.

    The findings should help translational researchers develop medications for individuals with neurological disorders, such as autism, depression and schizophrenia, whose conditions compromise their ability to experience pleasure from connecting with other people, Malenka said.

    But he also voiced a desire for more widespread applications of the research. “With so much hatred and anger in the world,” he said, “what could possibly be more important than understanding the mechanisms in the brain that make us want to be friendly with other people?”


  5. Study examines motivation of Snapchat users

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Texas Tech University press release:

    The simplicity of the platform and brevity of posts are key factors in determining how students can become addicted.

    In a world where people struggle with a seemingly diminishing attention span, Snapchat could be the best form of communication.

    Posts last just 10 seconds. That’s it. No deep thoughts or analytical narrative to the posts. Quick, simple and move on to the next topic.

    But a study by Texas Tech University associate professor Narissra Punyanunt-Carter, graduate student J.J. Delacruz and alumni Jason Wrench in the College of Media & Communication shows the interest and popularity of Snapchat goes beyond just its simplicity.

    “People use Snapchat a lot because of its entertainment and functional needs,” Delacruz said. “For certain people, it enables them to overcome communication apprehension by using a different means of communication where they don’t have a threat in their face. At the same time, there are people who are addicted to it. So for counseling purposes, there is a need to establish the motivations to see if maybe they need to use something other than Snapchat, mediated or not, as a way to fulfill their interaction needs.”

    In other words, Snapchat, because of its brevity, can provide the perfect medium for those who are hesitant about communicating their life to a public audience, but at the same time can become addictive because those same properties allow for multiple, quick posts that only last a few seconds.

    “I noticed people were using it all the time. They are constantly on it,” Punyanunt-Carter said. “It’s very different from the traditional social media because it only records 10 seconds worth of snaps that are very, very quick. So if I have a lot of friends, that’s very time consuming to sit down and watch all their posts on most social media platforms.”

    Finding their motivations

    For the study, Punyanunt-Carter and Delacruz recruited students in the College of Media & Communication through the department’s Sona survey system, where students earn extra credit in certain classes for participating in online surveys. They also administered the survey to those who responded to requests through TechAnnounce, totaling almost 500 students altogether.

    The survey asked students who use Snapchat about their reasons for using the medium, including needs and motivations. It also asked about general social media use motivations, such as personality characteristics and what made them tend to gravitate toward Snapchat as a social medium. It also asked questions to help researchers analyze differences between males and females.

    The brevity of Snapchat posts was a key factor for two big reasons. One, people using Snapchat felt much more trustworthy with how they shared content with others. Two, because the content disappears quickly, users are able to share their lives and don’t feel the pressure to present themselves in any extraordinary form — they can just be their normal, real self.

    “They thought that was a good way to maintain ties with people they were already very close with, interpersonally,” Delacruz said. “It wasn’t so much about whether or not they were being controversial as much as just not putting much thought into what is out there. Maybe it’s just an ugly selfie or whatever, or maybe it’s something that, because the judgement is not there like it is on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, there’s no controversial topics.”

    There’s also an element of familiarity with Snapchat that makes it a preferred medium. Not with the medium itself, but with those on the medium. Delacruz said Snapchat is not the preferred social media platform for starting a new relationship because the posts don’t last long. That is something more for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

    However, it is an optimal platform for those with whom the user already has a relationship, and therefore don’t have to impress in their post. It is used to maintain relationships and establish trust between users.

    At the same time, Snapchat seems to change faster than other social media platforms, adding things like filters that Facebook and Instagram later added as well.

    “It takes away the pressure of coming up with a great message or great topic, or coming up with a way to present yourself that is socially acceptable,” Delacruz said.

    Analyzing apprehension

    While Snapchat can be a useful tool to help overcome apprehension about communicating on a public forum, it can also swing the other way and become addictive.

    Understanding the motivations for users who are addicted to it is a crucial part of the study. By knowing what motivates Snapchat users, researchers can help others identify potential alternative outlets for communication.

    “Knowing their motivations would definitely help people who advise those with the addiction,” Delacruz said. “It can help them have a better understanding of how to be confident and effective communicators.”

    Punyanunt-Carter would like to expand future research beyond just Snapchat and into other forms of communication.

    “I’m going to look further at interpersonal communication behaviors and how these types of social media platforms affect interpersonal relationships and, perhaps, the sense of identity,” Punyanunt-Carter said. “I want to understand the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication elements on social media. There’s a lot that needs to be done.”


  6. Study links dogs’ social skills to oxytocin sensitivity

    October 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Linköping University press release:

    The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden. The results have been published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior and contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet.

    During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to “ask for help” when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans.

    The researchers suspected that the hormone oxytocin was involved. It is well-known that oxytocin plays a role in social relationships between individuals, in both humans and animals. The effect of oxytocin depends on the function of the structure that it binds to, the receptor, in the cell. Previous studies have suggested, among other things, that differences in dogs’ ability to communicate are associated with variations in the genetic material located close to the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor. The researchers in the present study examined 60 golden retrievers as they attempted to solve an insoluble problem.

    “The first step was to teach the dogs to open a lid, and in this way get hold of a treat. After this, they were given the same task with the lid firmly fixed in place, and thus impossible to open. We timed the dogs to see how long they attempted on their own, before turning to their owner and asking for help,” says Mia Persson, PhD student at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and principal author of the article.

    Before the behavioural test, the researchers increased the levels of oxytocin in the dogs’ blood by spraying the hormone into their nose. As a control, the dogs carried out the same test after having received a spray of neutral salt water in the same way. The researchers also collected DNA using a cotton swab inside the dogs’ cheek, and determined which variant of the gene for the oxytocin receptor that each dog had.

    The results showed that dogs with a particular genetic variant of the receptor reacted more strongly to the oxytocin spray than other dogs. The tendency to approach their owner for help increased when they received oxytocin in their nose, compared with when they received the neutral salt water solution. The researchers suggest that these results help us understand how dogs have changed during the process of domestication. They analysed DNA also from 21 wolves, and found the same genetic variation among them. This suggests that the genetic variation was already present when domestication of the dogs started, 15,000 years ago.

    “The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate, and then bred subsequent generations from these,” says Mia Persson.

    The genetic variations that the researchers have studied do not affect the oxytocin receptor itself: they are markers used for practical reasons. Further research is necessary to determine in more detail which differences in the genetic material lie behind the effects.

    Per Jensen points out that the study shows how social behaviour is to a large extent controlled by the same genetic factors in different species.

    “Oxytocin is extremely important in the social interactions between people. And we also have similar variations in genes in this hormone system. This is why studying dog behaviour can help us understand ourselves, and may in the long term contribute to knowledge about various disturbances in social functioning,” he says.


  7. Study suggests that boys at risk for psychopathy don’t experience laughter as contagious

    by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    For most people, laughter is highly contagious. It’s nearly impossible to hear or see someone laughing and not feel the urge to join in. But researchers reporting in Current Biology on September 28 have new evidence to show that boys at risk of developing psychopathy when they become adults don’t have that same urge.

    Individuals at risk of psychopathy show persistent disruptive behaviors alongside callous-unemotional traits. When asked in the study, boys fitting that description reported that they didn’t want to join in with laughter as much as their peers. Images of their brains also showed reduced response to the sound of laughter. Those differences were seen in brain areas that promote joining in with others and resonating with other people’s emotions, not in auditory brain areas.

    “Most studies have focused on how individuals with psychopathic traits process negative emotions and how their lack of response to them might explain their ability to aggress against other people,” says senior author Essi Viding, of University College London. “This prior work is important, but it has not fully addressed why these individuals fail to bond with others. We wanted to investigate how boys at risk of developing psychopathy process emotions that promote social affiliation, such as laughter.”

    Viding and colleagues recruited 62 boys aged 11 to 16 with disruptive behaviors with or without callous-unemotional traits and 30 normally behaved, matched controls. The groups were matched on ability, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, and handedness.

    “It is not appropriate to label children psychopaths,” Viding explains. “Psychopathy is an adult personality disorder. However, we do know from longitudinal research that there are certain children who are at a higher risk for developing psychopathy, and we screened for those features that indicate that risk.”

    The researchers captured the children’s brain activity using functional MRI while they listened to genuine laughter interleaved with posed laughter and crying sounds. The boys who took part were asked, on a scale of 1 to 7, “How much does hearing the sound make you feel like joining in and/or feeling the emotion?” and “How much does the sound reflect a genuinely felt emotion?”

    Boys who showed disruptive behavior coupled with high levels of callous-unemotional traits reported less desire to join in with laughter than did normally behaved children or those who were disruptive without showing callous-unemotional traits.

    All the boys showed brain activity to genuine laughter in many parts of the brain, including the auditory cortex, where sounds are processed. However, some interesting differences also emerged, and these were particularly pronounced in boys whose disruptive behavior was coupled with callous-unemotional traits. They showed reduced brain activity in the anterior insula and supplementary motor area, brain regions that are thought to facilitate resonating with other people’s emotions and joining in with their laughter. Boys who were disruptive but had low levels of callous-unemotional traits showed some differences too, but not as pronounced as the group with high levels of callous-unemotional traits.

    Viding says it’s hard to know whether the reduced response to laughter is a cause or a consequence of the boys’ disruptive behaviors. But the findings should clearly motivate further study into how signals of social affiliation are processed in children at risk of developing psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. She and her colleagues hope to explore related questions, including whether these children also respond differently to dynamically smiling faces, words of encouragement, or displays of love. They also want to learn at what age those differences arise.

    The findings show that kids who are vulnerable to developing psychopathy don’t experience the world quite like the rest of us, Viding says.

    “Those social cues that automatically give us pleasure or alert us to someone’s distress do not register in the same way for these children,” she says. “That does not mean that these children are destined to become antisocial or dangerous; rather, these findings shed new light on why they often make different choices from their peers. We are only now beginning to develop an understanding of how the processes underlying prosocial behavior might differ in these children. Such understanding is essential if we are to improve current approaches to treatment for affected children and their families who need our help and support.”


  8. Study suggests social dynamics of work group affect academic performance

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    It has become an almost essential element of academic life, from college lecture halls to elementary classrooms: the group assignment.

    Dreaded by some, loved by others, group projects typically aim to build teamwork and accountability while students learn about a topic. But depending on the assignment and the structure of the groups, a project can turn out to be a source of great frustration — for instructor and students alike — or the highlight of the school year.

    Now a University of Washington-led study of college students has found that the social dynamics of a group, such as whether one person dominates the conversation or whether students work with a friend, affect academic performance. Put simply, the more comfortable students are, the better they do, which yields benefits beyond the classroom.

    “They learn more,” explained Elli Theobald, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology and the lead author on the study, published July 20 in PLOS ONE. “Employers are rating group work as the most important attribute in new recruits and new hires. If students are able to demonstrate that they have worked successfully in groups, it would seem that they should be more likely to land the job.”

    Theobald is part of the UW’s Biology Education Research Group lab, formed by several faculty members in the Department of Biology about a decade ago to research how to most effectively teach biology to undergraduates.

    A separate study by the BERG lab on group work, published in the July issue of Active Learning in Higher Education, finds that college students, when given a choice of whom to sit and work with in a large classroom setting, gravitate toward those who appear most like them — whether by gender, race and ethnicity, or academic skills.

    Over the years, research spanning K-12 through post-secondary education has pointed to the value of group work in fostering collaborative skills and in cementing learning through interaction. In the sciences, labs are a common, though not the only, form of group work, Theobald said. As with many disciplines, STEM fields lend themselves to readings, worksheets and other activities that can be completed by multiple people working together.

    For this study, researchers compared survey responses and test scores stemming from two different project styles — single-group and “jigsaw” — with three assignments each during two sections of an introductory biology class at the UW. Each of the 770 students enrolled in one of the two sections of the course experienced each project style at least once. In a single-group activity, student groups completed a worksheet together, relying on their notes and textbooks. In a jigsaw, student groups were assigned specific sections of the worksheet; students then were shuffled to new groups in which each person in the group had completed a different section of the worksheet and could teach their new groupmates what they had learned. Students took an eight-question test after each assignment.

    The study found that students who reported a “dominator” in the group fared worse on the tests than those who didn’t express that concern. It also found that students who said they were comfortable in their group performed better than those who said they were less comfortable.

    The jigsaw activity appeared to result in more collaboration: Students were 67 percent less likely to report a dominator in jigsaws than in single-group activities. “This suggests that jigsaw activities with intentional structure more effectively promote equity than group activities with less intentional structure,” researchers wrote.

    The nearly 770 students who completed all the assignments, tests and surveys had formed two- and three-person groups with those who sat near them in class. (Jigsaw assignments later shuffled initial groups.) Two-thirds of participants were female; people of color, including students who identify as Asian, Under-Represented Minority, and International, made up more than half of respondents.

    While the gender and racial and ethnic makeup of the participants informed the study, Theobald said, researchers don’t have details on who worked with whom so as to extrapolate from the composition of groups. For instance, were the experiences of women who worked with men different from those of women who worked in all-female groups? If a group contained only one person of color, what was that person’s experience compared to the rest of the group? That kind of information is ripe for further research, Theobald said.

    However, one noticeable data point emerged: International and Asian American students were six times as likely to report a dominator than white American students. “Not all students experience group work the same way,” researchers wrote in the study. “If one student dominates a conversation, it can be particularly jarring to students from cultural backgrounds that place more emphasis on introspection and thinking on one’s own as opposed to a direct relationship between talking as a way to work through ideas.”

    Though the data was collected from college students, the findings translate to other settings, Theobald said. She pointed to a study Google conducted to determine what made groups successful — establishing group routines and expectations (“norms”) and adding a brief window at the beginning of work time for casual talk. Such findings, along with those of the UW study, can inform employers as well as K-12 teachers about productive group work, she said.

    The younger the students, the more structure a teacher is likely to have to establish, Theobald added. But when teachers make an assignment sufficiently interesting and complex, and manage student behavior, there is a potential for students to work together happily and productively.

    “If we can get our groups to be more comfortable, students should learn better and work better,” Theobald said.


  9. Study suggests fake news more likely to thrive online due to lowered fact-checking

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Columbia Business School press release:

    The power and proliferation of fake online news stems not only from its apparent ubiquity but also from a sense of the presence of others that social media sites create, according to new research conducted by Gita Johar, the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, along with doctoral students Rachel Meng and Youjung Jun. The researchers found that when people are presented with claims whose veracity is ambiguous they are less likely to fact-check the claims when the information is consumed in a group setting.

    In their paper, “Perceived Social Presence Reduces Fact-Checking,” the researchers conducted eight experiments to evaluate how the presence of others affects the way that people evaluate information and, in particular, the extent to which people verify ambiguous claims.

    The researchers had participants evaluate a range of different statements on simulated websites to test their hypothesis. In one experiment, participants gave responses (true, false, or flag) for 36 statements described as news headlines published by a U.S. media outlet, such as “Scientists have officially declared the Great Barrier Reef to be dead” or “Undocumented immigrants pay $12 billion a year into Social Security.” Throughout the task, half of the participants saw their own username displayed alone on the side of the screen, while the other half saw those of 102 respondents described as currently logged on, presumably completing the same task. People fact-checked fewer statements when they perceived that others were present.

    Overall, the studies focused on individuals’ scrutiny of, rather than belief in, the information they consume. According to the researchers, perceiving the company of others seemed to influence people’s willingness to verify information, not how much they believed it.

    The researchers advanced three possibilities for why collective settings may suppress fact checking:

    1. Individuals may exert less effort (and hence be less likely to fact-check claims) because they expect to ‘free ride’ on others;

    2. People may abide by social norms that lead them to take the words of others at face value; or

    3. Crowds may inherently cause people to feel ‘safety in numbers,’ which decreases vigilance in general.

    The evidence largely supported the third possibility, suggesting that social contexts impede fact-checking by lowering people’s guards instinctively. Across eight experiments, participants flagged 35 percent fewer statements on average for later fact-checking on simulated news sites when they believed they were working in a group setting compared to when they believed they were working alone. However, when the researchers had participants first do exercises to momentarily induce a vigilant mindset, those in a group setting fact-checked nearly twice as many statements as those who weren’t given such encouragement.

    “Animals in the wild hide out and feel safer in herds and, similarly, we feel safer in a crowd,” said Johar. “When applied to information consumed on social media, this same instinct results in lower fact-checking.”

    Fact-Checking in the Current Political Climate

    Fake news continues to be a global problem. Since the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee opened its investigation into allegations that Russia hired as many as 1,000 people to create fake news stories, false news stories have rattled the French election and upset the primary process in the Kenyan election. These stories can have a powerful and multiplying effect since the average person spends almost two hours each day on social media sites1 consuming and circulating news and information.

    When it comes to political discourse specifically, personal beliefs play an important role and, not surprisingly, those beliefs tend to follow party lines. For example, in one study reported in the paper, Democrats evaluated liberal candidates’ statements as more true and, conversely, Republicans evaluated a conservative candidate’s statements as more true. However, participants continued to fact-check political statements less often in a group compared to an individual setting. Political alignment, then, only seemed to affect whether people rated a statement as true, not how much they were willing to verify that statement.


  10. Study suggests you can ‘pick up’ a good or bad mood from your friends

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, but depression can’t.

    A team led by the University of Warwick has examined whether friends’ moods can affect an individual therefore implying that moods may spread across friendship networks.

    The team analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools. Their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team’s findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However they also found that they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.

    Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. They found the opposite applied to adolescents who had a more positive social circle.

    Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre led the study. He said: “We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness and sleep) spreading through US adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time.

    “Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.

    “Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.

    “Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression.”

    The World Health Organisation has estimated that depression affects 350 million people across the world, impacting on individual’s abilities to work and socialise and at worse leading to suicide. This study’s findings emphasise the need to also consider those who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms just below those needed for a diagnosis of actual depression when designing public health interventions.

    The study also helps confirm that there is more to depression than simply low mood. At the individual level, these findings imply that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood, e.g. exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress, can help a teenager’s friends as well as themselves. Whilst for depression, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness so a recommended course of action would be to show them support.

    Their conclusions link in to current policy discussions on the importance of sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms and could help inform interventions against depression in senior schools

    Co-author, professor Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School said: “The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents. Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

    “Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”